"You'll need to catch the bus to Stromness," says the lady at the tourist information office. She's the cheery sort you'd expect to find working here -- that rare employee who genuinely seems to love her job.
I arrived in Kirkwall, the largest town in the Orkney Islands, less than an hour ago. I've come to ask the best mode of transportation to the Orkney Folk Festival
, three nights of continuous musical acts held over the long May weekend.
She removes a pamphlet and turns it around on the counter. She circles the schedule time leaving tomorrow night at 5:15 p.m. Her name tag simply states Kathleen.
"How long does it take to get there?" I ask.
"About a half an hour with stops," she says. "Are you going to the festival?"
"Yes!" I say.
"How are you getting back? The buses stop running at ten."
"Oh?" I question. "Could I take a taxi?"
I can see by the look on her face this is not an option. I keep forgetting Kirkwall has about 7,100 residents and where I'm headed tomorrow, less than a third of that number.
"You know, I think my brother is going there. He could give you a lift back."
Before I can say no, she's picked up the phone. After a few moments she says it's all set and he'll meet me in the foyer after the concert. His name is Alistair. He'll be with his significant other, Marie.
Ordinarily this goes against everything I learned as a kid: Do not accept rides from strangers. But surely this adorable woman – Kathleen – would not be arranging dangerous pick-ups from the Kirkwall Tourism Office. That would be bad for business. No, I'll take the risk. The scariest thing I've seen so far is a shocking lack of sunshine.
"Thank you! That's so kind of you," I say. "I'll meet him after the concert then."
Everyone had questioned my decision to visit this place. Nobody had ever heard of it – including me. When I'd studied the map of Scotland
, something had drawn me to this archipelago of 70 islands located below the Shetland Islands. My mother had said I might as well go to the North Pole.
"Look!" Mom had screamed. "It's practically off the page it's so high up!"
Before leaving Edinburgh
this morning, I'd asked the bellman if he'd ever been to the Orkney Islands. He hadn't, and he was Scottish. True, Edinburgh has a lot to offer: the Royal Mile, the ghost tours, the castle. All the attractions most travelers consider Places of Interest.
"Why are you going there?" he'd asked as I was leaving.
"I'm going to the Orkney Folk Festival. This marks its 27th year," I'd told him. "For three full days and nights, musicians from all over the world come and play."
He'd offered a nod and quizzical smile in return.